Examining Group A: European powerhouses meet debutants
Group A at the 27th IHF Men’s World Championship sees representation from three continents, with two of the three debutants at the event, Uruguay and Cape Verde, as well as three-time world champions Germany and two-time semi-finalists Hungary.
Given Uruguay and Cape Verde are brand new participants in the World Championship, and from different continents, there is no history against each other or their European opponents to speak of. While Uruguay qualified as the third-ranked team at the 2020 Men’s South and Central American Championship, Cape Verde booked their Egypt 2021 ticket as the fifth-placed side at the 2020 CAHB Men’s African Championship.
The opening matches for the group, on 15 January, will be the first glimpse of how the debutants measure up on the global stage – and they will need to be ready to go at full throttle from the opening whistle given the calibre of their opponents.
Most who have been following handball in recent years know Germany are one of the top teams to watch and a big threat to the title at Egypt 2021. After their home world title in 2007, Germany dropped in global and continental rankings, before roaring back to the top with a surprise EHF EURO win in 2016.
That January victory was followed by a bronze-medal win at the 2016 Olympic Games. Although Germany have not won a medal since Rio 2016, they reached the semi-finals at the previous edition of the Men’s World Championship, in 2019, and placed fifth at the EHF EURO 2020 this past January.
What may have been less perceptible is Hungary’s rise. However, anyone who followed the team at the EHF EURO 2020 will be well aware of the danger they pose. With an average age of just under 25, Hungary’s team was the youngest at the latest European Championship. However, wins against Russia and Iceland as well as a draw versus current world and Olympic champions Denmark saw them top their preliminary group in what was a big surprise. Hungary then came very close to securing a semi-final place from their main round group, but ultimately ranked ninth.
Since the EURO 2020, the only official international matches played in Europe have been the qualification games on the path to the next EHF EURO, to be co-hosted by Hungary. As hosts and therefore direct qualifiers for the event, Hungary are contesting the EHF EURO Cup, which they began with a victory over current European champions Spain and then a narrow loss to continental vice-champions Croatia. These results show that no one can be surprised by the young Hungary team any longer – they must be taken very seriously as an opponent.
On paper, it seems the battle for first position in the group will be between Hungary and Germany, while Uruguay and Cape Verde will fight for the third and final spot in the main round.
The first game of the group will see Uruguay meeting Germany, before Cape Verde play Hungary later in the evening. In Round 2, Cape Verde will take on Germany, and Uruguay will face Hungary. The final round of preliminary matches will likely end up being the big decision-making day regarding the table ranking, as Uruguay will play Cape Verde before Germany meet Hungary.
Germany and Hungary are the only teams in the group to have met before in official matches. According to the German Handball Association statistics, which inherit West Germany’s results and run from 1938 through to 2020, the teams have played each other a total of 60 times. Germany have won 33 of those matches, while Hungary were victorious 16 times and 11 games ended in a draw. Hungary’s last win against Germany came in a test match in 2012. Germany have won the four games since then, with the latest in the 2017 World Championship preliminary round, 27:23.
All Group A matches will be played in 6th of October Sports Hall, on January 15, 17 and 19.